KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla — Three space shuttle veterans, including the first woman to command a space shuttle mission, a member of the largest crew to fly on the shuttle, and an astronaut who flew six missions on the iconic spacecraft, were inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHoF) today. Eileen Collins, Bonnie Dunbar Ph.D., and Curt Brown were added into this prestigious group in a ceremony held Saturday, April 20 at 2 p.m. EDT at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
“It is a very big day for me; it’s overwhelming. I never imagined that as a small kid growing up, wanting to fly, that I would ever be in this position,” said Curt Brown, a six-time space shuttle veteran and one of the inductee’s into this year’s Hall of Fame. “I consider myself lucky to have the missions that I’ve had, and today to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is just beyond belief.”
The Astronaut Hall of Fame (AHoF) currently includes more than 30 space flight legends, including famous space flyers such as Neil Armstrong, Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Sally Ride, Jim Lovell, Tom Stafford, and Gus Grissom. This is the 12th group of space shuttle astronauts to be inducted into the AHoF. The biographies of those inducted into the Hall of Fame are no less impressive:
- Curt Brown: Colonel Brown is a highly-experienced pilot with the United States Air Force and traveled into space six times aboard the space shuttle. He was part of the crew that traveled “up-hill” with space flight legend John Glenn as he returned to orbit aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Brown also was part of the STS-103 mission that improved the capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope.
- Eileen Collins: Collins is a four-time space shuttle veteran who was tapped to not only be the first female pilot of the shuttle era, but also the first female commander, a role she assumed twice during her fourteen-year career with NASA. Most remember Collins as the commander of the Return-to-Flight mission after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. Besides the STS-114 Return-to-Flight mission, Collins also commanded STS-93, which delivered the Chandra X-Ray Observatory. On this mission Collins proved her mettle when a electrical short disabled a primary and secondary controller on two of the three main engines. Collins managed to guide Columbia to orbit, and her and the STS-93 crew successfully completed the mission.
- Bonnie Dunbar: Dunbar flew into space five times. She flew on STS-61A, which carried the largest crew compliment of any shuttle mission. On other missions Dunbar assisted with satellite deployments, conducted numerous experiments, and traveled to the Russian space station Mir.
This marks the first induction group where women outnumber men. All three of today’s inductees have flown on Space Shuttle Atlantis, an aspect important to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex as Atlantis now calls the Visitor Complex home. The orbiter’s exhibit is being prepared for its grand opening, currently scheduled to take place June 29 of this year. The operators of the Visitor Complex, Delaware North Companies, held a hard-hat tour (as the structure is still undergoing construction) of Atlantis’ new digs.
Today’s event included a range of other opportunities for the public to meet and get autographs from space flight pioneers such as Bob Crippen, the pilot of the very first space shuttle mission, STS-1; Kathy Thornton, the first woman to conduct an Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), more commonly known as a space walk; and others. Highlighting the accomplishments of NASA’s female astronauts, an event was held commemorating Girl Scouts who went on to become astronauts. Other events were also held throughout the course of the day to allow the public with opportunities to meet other Hall of Fame astronauts.
Brown’s humility was echoed by the other astronauts inducted with him into the Hall of Fame this year.
“I never considered myself to be a role model,” Dunbar said. “Even when you look at STS-61A (the only shuttle mission to have an eight-person crew) I just consider myself fortunate to have flown with a number of professionals on a tremendously successful flight.”
Many Hall of Fame members—those who have been included in the elite club for some time as well as those who joined the ranks today—expressed the sentiment that this was more than about personal accolades, and that this accomplishment was something that should be used to inspire others to follow their example. Collins was one of those who stated as much during a brief question and answer session held with the media just prior to the induction ceremony.
“This isn’t about me. I’m here—I believe as a person to communicate the message of the greatness of space exploration and for the importance of young people to choose careers in math, science, and engineering—to tell you that you can be an astronaut someday if you work hard enough … ,” said Eileen Collins, the first woman to both pilot and command the space shuttle. “Astronauts are role models; whether we like it or not, we’re here and we are role models. It can be tough for some to go out and do the public speaking thing, but I feel if you have enough passion for what you believe in, it comes easier. So I try to take that passion that I have for the space program as well as for engineering and science in general and try to spread it to people.”
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